DALLAS — A former Southwest Airlines flight attendant who was fired after sparring with her union president over abortion and other issues won a $5.1 million jury verdict against the airline and the union.
A jury in federal district court in Dallas handed down the verdict Thursday. If it stands, Charlene Carter could collect $4.15 million from Southwest and $950,000 from Local 556 of the Transport Workers Union, mostly in punitive damages.
Southwest said Friday that it “has a demonstrated history of supporting our employees’ rights to express their opinions when done in a respectful manner.” It plans to appeal. A lawyer for the union said jurors might have misunderstood the judge’s instructions, and it also plans to appeal.
Carter alleged she was fired in March 2017 after complaining to the union president about flight attendants going to a march in Washington, D.C., where more than 500,000 people protested President Donald Trump’s positions on abortion and other issues. Carter, who had clashed with the union for years over other issues, believed dues were paying for an anti-abortion protest.
Carter sent a series of Facebook messages, some containing videos of purported aborted fetuses, to Audrey Stone, who was president of the union at the time. She called Stone “despicable” and said she would be voted out of office.
According to court documents, the airline said it fired Carter because posts on her Facebook page, in which she could be identified as a Southwest employee, were “highly offensive” and that her private messages to Stone were harassing. The airline said she violated company policies on bullying and use of social media.
The jury said Southwest unlawfully discriminated against Carter because of her sincerely held religious beliefs.
Carter, a 20-year veteran of Southwest, said the union did not fairly represent her and retaliated against her for expressing her views. Her lead attorney came from the National Right To Work Committee, which campaigns against compulsory union membership.